Great Britain

Come summer 2021, who's going to save our sorry asses? | Stewart Lee

Two dozen young people, their hair unkempt, their face masks filthy, stood on the rolling route of the Ridgeway at Overton, holding aloft on wooden shafts an enormous pair of billowing ladies’ bloomers. White against the blue sky like nylon clouds, written upon their wind-filled cheeks were the words “sorry ass”. “Sorry ass!”, chanted the children, “Sorry ass! Sorry ass! Save your sorry ass!” In the long hot summer of 2021 (0001 AC) the coronavirus reshaped not only society and the economy, but also the fragile column of ether that is human faith.

It was on 2 August 2020, a year previously, that the Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s worst newspaper, had carried an opinion piece concluding: “The celebration of historical diversity shouldn’t be surrendered to the left as a permanent guilt trip or a weapon to use in the culture war. The Tories should embrace it as a celebration of the glorious patchwork of British life.” The Conservatives’ media masters were instructing them to reject racism, not because to do so was right in and of itself, but because feigning wokeness would be another way to discredit their political opponents, a job they had previously been happy to delegate to all mainstream media, clockwork Russian cyber-bots, and sexless young men on YouTube, foaming in their mum’s basements.

Similarly, one might cynically adopt any expedient moral position, whether one believed it or not, to win the public school debating competition, triumph in the Oxford PPE tutorial, or seduce leftwing totty at the May ball. Rejecting racism was all about winning. And it was virtue signalling of the first water. “Wait until these born-again rightwing social justice warriors find out some of the things their own prime minister has been saying,” a Marxist BAME media-friend of mine had laughed back then: “They are going to lose their shit!” “We are all letterboxes now,” our non-binary Muslim companion reminded us, tugging at their face mask.

The green shoots of the Conservatives’ new rightwing anti-racism strategy had been evident earlier in the year. On the 3 July, the Daily Mail had run a story entitled “Uber Eats cuts ties with BBC comedian Jethro who fronted their ads after his ‘disgusting’ jibe accusing environment secretary George Eustice of not liking Cornish pasties.” Jethro is a British comedian of Cornish descent, whose contract to advertise Uber Eats had elapsed in May. On 11 June he had tweeted a picture of the pasty-loving Mr Eustice, who was born in Penzance, captioned “Shall we have a Cornish pasty for dinner tonight, George?” Despite the assiduously curated Benetton rainbow of my social group, I honestly don’t know enough about the food and race-based triggers contained within this tweet to decode the magnitude of its offence, but I am happy to accept it was racist if honest brokers like the Daily Mail and the Conservatives say it was. Nonetheless, the paper’s reporting of the story was determinedly inaccurate.

Uber Eats declined to comment on Jethro, as they were probably too busy putting katsu curries on to mopeds, but a fictional senior Tory praised the newly woke app for “acting swiftly to drop this nasty character. One can only assume they were concerned that associating with this individual would damage their reputation.” “Wait until Uber Eats find out they’re an offshore-based tax and regulation dodging bunch of bastards,” that same imaginary Marxist BAME media-friend of mine had laughed. “They’re going to have to act swiftly to drop their nasty selves!” “And what is Uber Eats anyway?”, texted a Romani comedy writer friend from her Brighton wheelchair, “It sounds like tapas made by Hitler!” If only my real friends were as witty and diverse as my imaginary ones!

The 11 July Daily Mail piece concluded with the admission that Jethro’s Uber Eats contract had actually elapsed in May, thus proving its own headline on its own report was false, unless Uber had taken action to disassociate itself from Jethro a month before his tweet, in clairvoyant anticipation of the Conservatives’ undoubtedly sincere objections. It may be possible to foresee the future I suppose. After all, I am writing this week’s column now, but it is set in the summer of next year. But who was telling the truth? And did truth matter any more anyway? Was it just another casualty of the Brexit-Covid government?

Thankfully, a year after pasty-gate, a burgeoning cult of young people have decided truth does matter. Dominic Cumming’s trip to Durham showed that if you believe you are right then rules need not apply, and the Sorry Asses have broken Lockdown Four to wander the long distance trackways of Britain proclaiming their message from the moral high ground. I followed them discreetly, north-east along the white chalk Ridgeway, to the foothills of Tory weekend territory.

“We wanted to believe the best of our leaders,” said the head Sorry Ass, a displaced aristocrat called Leonora, sparking up on the bank of a dark ages hill fort. “We knew they had lied, and they knew they had lied, but we combed their communications for some hint of contrition, suggesting trust could be rebuilt. And we found it, here.” Leonora pointed to a scrap of paper, a tweet sent by Sarah Vine, the Daily Mail resentment filter bed, in August of 2020, the previous year. It read: “We all have to die sooner or later. If I get Covid and cop it, so be it. My time has come. I’ll have had a good life, better than most in this world at any rate. I certainly don’t expect the entire nation to bankrupt itself to save my sorry ass.”

“Where is the contrition?” I asked. “All I see is selfishness and advocacy of a death cult.” “There,” said Leonora, pointing: “It says ‘sorry ass’. Her ass was sorry. Her mind will follow.” And the Sorry Asses hauled their bloomer banner high, and chanted towards the Chilterns. “Sorry ass! Sorry ass! Save your sorry ass!”

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